Friday, January 30, 2009

Aaron David Miller on "peace process"

I happened to get Google notice of this report from a Cleveland source about a talk by Aaron David Miller, a generally respected expert (a former consultant to six secretaries of state on Arab-Israeli negotiations) on the US-Middle East relations and various sub-sets thereof. I usually find a lot to admire in his analyses, but some of what he says here strikes me as ill-conceived. Thus. . . .

After assisting in the reopening of Gaza to trade and commerce [Amen to that], the Obama administration must then help bolster Abbas, who Miller believes was weakened by the fighting in the strip. . . .Training Abbas’s security forces to fend for themselves against Hamas will further strengthen the Palestinian president. . . . the Obama administration cannot leap into talks with Hamas, a move that would anger Israelis and undercut the standing of moderate Arabs.

I must disagree, on several counts:

  • 1. Abbas is a dead duck, with zero credibility among too many Palestinians. He's made absolutely no progress of any significance on issues central to a lasting peace, and especially on the creation of a viable Palestinian state. The Israelis have pushed him around as it has suited them, and Condi Rice more than once smacked him down when the Bush administration felt he's stepped out of line - a prime example being in 2007 when he signed on to the unity-government deal with Hamas that the Saudis brokered. To bolster Abbas now, at the expense of Hamas (which was - let's not forget - voted into power - in elections sanctioned by Bush - by a truly democratic process in 2006) is to put money on a horse that has no chance of winning, or even finishing the race.
  • 2. Arming Fatah vs. Hamas without some kind of political reconciliation only serves to promote civil war - which in turn allows the Israelis to trot out their tried-and-true line: We have no partner for peace.
  • 3. The Obama administration must indeed talk to Hamas, and the sooner the better, or else risk being accused of the same kind of hypocrisy that tarred Bush: that the US, with all its talk about promoting democracy, refuses to back (rather than block - and blockade) a duly elected government. And if the litmus test of Obama's policy-making is whether or not an action will anger Israelis . . . well, talk about the tail wagging the dog!

To be fair, Miller does make some other points that ought to be applauded, especially in terms of calling out the Israelis for continuing to expand settlements in the West Bank, and preventing Israel from launching a military intervention against Iran. On the other hand, he also wants the US to promote a peace agreement between Israel and Syria, but his major purpose there seems to be to undercut Hamas and Hezbollah, and thereby, Iran. But instead of one more bilateral peace deal (a la the earlier deals with Egypt and Jordan, which have in actuality produced a cold peace at best, at least as far as the peoples of those countries are concerned), why not throw US support behind the 2002 Saudi proposal, to which many of the Arab countries have signed on?

And rather than continue to trash the Iranians, why not try harder to bring them into the fold by offering them a security deal, an economic package, more cultural exchanges . . . in other words, getting past the mutual demonization and working instead on building a relationship built on common interests, rather than a clash, of the "civilizations" that the US and Iran embody?

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